Pretty much the only time you see the word “anarchic” it’s coupled with “humour” or “comedy”. Anarchists are the Kardashians of realpolitik. “Aren’t they the ones who drink herbal tea because ‘proper tea’ is theft?”
Anarchism has been considered ridiculous for so long, even the name seems out of another time like Leveller, Fettler or Yuppie. There were a few anarchist bomb throwers a century ago but the idea that a bunch of yobs who don’t believe in organisation could organise a revolution soon became laughable and a byword for daft radical delusionism. It was the occupation you’d announce for a giggle down at the job centre.
And yet, without anyone mentioning its name, anarchy as a real life meme has stealthy evolved into one of the defining political forces of our time. Millions are coming to the anarchist’s conclusion: whichever way you vote, the Government always gets in. And they really don’t like it. They voted for Brxit, they voted for Trump, some are even resorting to recipes from The Anarchist’s Cookbook with the glee of a Heston Blewmenup.
Watching the US Election campaigns it seemed Clinton was not only fighting for a liberal democratic agenda and perhaps her own chance to “not have sexual relations” in the Oval Office, but for the whole process of government we have developed over centuries.
Forty years ago this month the Sex Pistols’ released Anarchy in the UK. Like so many kids trying to survive a childhood regulated by post-war militarised parents, I was swept up in awe at the unleashing, and sheer power, of the anger expressed by the dentally couldn‘t-give-a-fuck Johnny Rotten. In the documentary The Filth and the Fury, Rotten admitted that he only used “Anarchist” because it rhymed with “Antichrist”. But then who needed rhyme anyway with all that visceral anger bottled in vinyl?
At that point my only understanding of anarchy was as a state my mother claimed our family lived in whenever someone forgot to do the washing up. But I was old enough to look it up and young enough to be entranced by its hedonistic potential. I was fired up and inspired to go straight out and get a tattoo of that ragged capital “A” breaking out of the circle trying to confine it, a scarlet letter on acid. I was going to stick it to authority, and I honestly would have if I hadn’t had a load of homework and a draconian bedtime. “No rules rules” I smugly scrawled on my English exercise book feeling as safe in this paradox as Schrodinger’s cat was from being shot by Zeno’s arrow on Theseus’ ship.
Forty years on and, as per Rotten’s only comprehensible lyric, our “future dream” really “is a shopping scheme”. Western politics finds itself besieged by something which looks an awful lot like anarchism. The waves of popular movements surfed by the likes of Farage and Trump are not left or right. They are essentially protests against government, of whatever colour, for consistently enabling greed and imposing austerity.
The reason Trump reserved the right to question the US election results is not just because he is a poor loser, even though he might be, but because his core followers are those who suspect the very machinery of government. They call it Libertarianism, but it’s just Anarchy with a small “a”. As dearly as any anarchists, the followers of UKIP, Trump and the US Tea Party want an end to interfering government. Just don’t ask what replaces it, that’s as clear as mud, soup and the Brexit strategy.
When the ideologies of left and right were more extreme and at war with each other, democratic government felt the only safe option. Anarchy seemed so far from rational possibility that the 1970 farce “Accidental Death of an Anarchist” by Dario Fo, the Nobel Laureate who died last month, used the anarchist’s ambitions as a symbol of futility to which any reaction by the police was, by necessity, an over-reaction. But as our political see-sawing gradually lost momentum and steered to a centre ground, as the storm abated, the capitalist sharks gathered to exploit the calm waters. Now in the wake of their feeding frenzy the libertarian revolution has begun and it will not go away with a Brexit or the US Election result. As Michael Moore tells Britain in his latest film Trumpland, “you used the ballot as an anger management tool. And now you’re fucked.”
“The Anarchy,” for fans of the repetitiveness of history theory, was England’s first civil war in the 12th century. The turmoil revolved around an event celebrating its 875th anniversary this month: the attempt to crown England’s first woman ruler, Matilda, daughter of Henry I. In an all too familiar act of both misogyny and Francophobia, the London mob halted the coronation and she never officially became queen. The years before and after were some of the bloodiest the country had seen; but then few women have found their way to power in perfect peace.
Unlike other political ideologies Anarchy, even in its most imperfect form, finds itself wrapped up in paradox. It posits that without government interference people can live richer more fulfilled lives, but then the deregulation of the markets, which unleashed the mammon feast that brought the world to its knees in 2008, was as libertarian as the right to bear arms and shit in the woods.
As I reserve a little wall space to be up against when the revolution comes, I’m already missing the days when “anarchic” was simply a word used to describe the antics of Tom and Jerry or Dick and Dom In Da Bungalow.
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